Archive for Climate Change

Climate Change, Media and Child Custody


No, that’s not a misprint-I would guess that those three topics have seldom, if ever, been combined in a title.
I was inspired this morning by watching CNN’s gushing coverage of the climate change talks in Paris this week, which featured President Obama claiming that climate change was both “intertwined with terrorism” and an immediate threat to national security.
This represents a dazzling example of how the media influences current events.
First, simply by what it calls the event. For a couple decades it was “global warming” but in the last few years, when the data didn’t seem to support much, if any warming, it was climate change. This was very handy since the climate has been constantly changing for the last four billion years!
Besides CNN, the Weather Channel (in early 2015 the most widely distributed cable channel, with over 97 million subscribers) has been prominent in hyping natural disasters and giving the impression that they are increasing at an alarming rate. They are owned by NBC and thus are the tag-team weather-disaster champs. Among many “inconvenient truths” they both ignore are the fact that we haven’t had a category three hurricane hit the continental US in ten years (a category four in more than 20 years!) and that Americans consistently rate global warming/climate change either at or very near the bottom of a list of national problems.
If one wants a balanced approach to climate, one should google Bjorn Lonborg, the Danish scientist who believes that man-made climate change is real but that the trillions of dollars being proposed in Paris to transfer from the US and EU to kleptocratic third world dictators could be much better spent on clean water and natural gas projects for those same nations.
So where’s the media on child custody? Despite deifying science when it comes to the above topic, they ignore the majority of social scientists who have found that fathers are crucial for a child’s development. The Lifetime Channel (I used to tease my mother when she watched it and called it the Life-Crime channel) is the dramatic equivalent of the Weather Channel and its villains are evil husbands/boyfriends who want to either take or kill their children, rather than hurricanes, fires, droughts and floods.
As for news channels, they completely ignore any American father fighting for the right to have equal parenting time while concentrating on two high-profile international cases, both of which were only covered after the mother died. They thus played it safe by glamorizing widowers as did 1960’s sitcoms like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “My Three Sons”.
The most recent of these was the David Goldman case. It began in 2004 when the Brazilian mother took her son back home and refused to return. Despite signing the Hague agreement on child custody, Brazil refused to cooperate, as is very common in international cases. In 2009, after the mother died, NBC finally became interested when the mother was out of the picture and it had become a battle between Goldman and the Brazilian grandparents. NBC Dateline’s coverage of the case inspired Congress to become involved and the boy was fairly quickly returned to his dad after that but only after losing more than five years of parental contact!
The other international case was that of Elian Gonzalez in 1999-2000. In this one the mother died in a raft trying to reach Florida from Cuba and the boy was taken in by his relatives in Miami. The Cuban government put strong international pressure on the Bill Clinton administration to return the boy. I happened to be visiting Cuba to practice my Spanish in early 2000 and saw what was reported to be a million people, all wearing red and white Elian T-shirts, marching through the streets of Havana. After a few months, Attorney General Janet Reno became involved, sent in a SWAT squad and the world witnessed perhaps the most famous child custody case ever as aunts, uncles and grandparents tried to tug the boy away from the heavily-armed SWAT soldiers.
60 Minutes did a follow-up several years later and of course made Cuba look like a tropical paradise. The inconvenient truth they downplayed there is that Mr. Gonzalez works in hospitality and garners higher earnings through tips than a Cuban physician does and thus Elian’s house was far nicer than the typical Cuban abode and, in fact, the house has now been turned into a national museum.
To close I’ll briefly cover child custody in films. Somewhat parallel to the 60’s TV single dads who were all widowers, these first three films show kids abandonded by their moms. Last week I talked about Pierce Brosnan’s starring role in “Evelyn”. Two other ones with “runaway moms” were Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer versus Kramer” and Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness (sic)”.
All three had tremendous performances by the fathers but only Kramer was an actual custody struggle, when the mother returns halfway through the film. It was also the only one of the three that received Oscars.

Two film deserve special attention.  The first is the “tour-de-farce” Mrs. Doubtfire.  My 13 year old son enjoyed this one, probably the only one here he would like.  There are rumors that it approximated Robin Williams’ own divorce and the humiliating visitation scenes so many of us have been part of.  It’s also rumored that his suicide was partly due to the financial pressure of alimony/child support payments which would have forced him to re-enact more painful visitation scenes in a sequel.

The only international child custody film is the remarkable “Not Without My Daughter”.  Sally Fields shines as the heroine after being a “nice villainess” in Doubtfire.  It certainly spotlights Iranian-American cultural differences and fits easily in our current zeitgeist of Middle East conflict.
Finally, I must mention “Sleepless in Seattle” since it fits the 60’s single dad-widower stereotype. One poll named it runner-up in “The most romantic film of all time”. For one who has spent many years as a single dad, I can candidly reveal that real life is almost never like that!

In conclusion, just as “climate change” will go down as one of history’s greatest political slogans, so too will “best interest of the child” as the basis of child custody decisions.  Unfortunately, in the latter case, the media has mostly been conspicuous in its absence.


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